Drugs, driving high and the risk of a crash

Alcohol, cannabis and prescription medicines can all impair driving skills. In the latest edition of Australian Prescriber, Associate Professor Vanita Parekh, Director of the Clinical Forensic Medical Services at Canberra Hospital, looks at the effects of, and laws about, using psychoactive substances while driving.

Psychoactive substances affect the mental state of the person taking them and increase the risk of having a motor vehicle collision. Sedatives, opioids and stimulants are of particular concern.

“Sedatives make you more relaxed and sleepy, particularly in the first one or two months after starting them or when the dose is changed,” says Vanita Parekh.

“Examples of sedatives include benzodiazepines which some people use for anxiety or to help them sleep. Alcohol is also a sedative so if it is taken with other sedatives, the risk of a crash increases further.

“Using stimulants, including illicit substances like ecstasy and cocaine, also increases the risk of a collision. The resulting fast driving, running red lights and aggressive driving, as well as extreme fatigue after the drug has worn off, are dangerous,” she says.

Random roadside alcohol and drug testing occurs across Australia. Saliva samples are tested for cannabis, ice, speed and ecstasy.

Mandatory testing of blood, and sometimes urine, is required following a collision. Samples are screened for commonly used substances including alcohol.

“Driving requires a high level of skill,” says Vanita Parekh. “When prescribing, your doctor will ask whether you drink alcohol or use other substances. They can advise you if you should avoid driving or if you need to take extra precautions to keep yourself safe while taking the medicine.”

Read the full Australian Prescriber article.

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